Thursday, February 25, 2010

Austrian Wine Tasting: Wines of Rudi Pichler, Stadt Krems, and Paul Achs

About a month ago I received an invitation through the Boston Sommelier Society to attend a tasting of Austrian wines.  I immediately replied that I would love to be there since Austrian wines are some of my favorites and it's tough to find really good ones in retail shops because they are still considered obscure and come at a premium.  Trade tasting are often tedious because of the amount of people in attendance and the dearth of quality wine shown, but I will hand it to Winebow and MS Walker for putting on a nicely orchestrated, organized and informative event with plenty of great wine to taste.  The delicious free lunch from Eastern Standard didn't hurt either!

For the most part, Austria produces its best wines from two grapes: Gruner Veltliner and Riesling.  I love Riesling and Gruner has enjoyed a little bit of a cult wine status here in the Boston restaurant scene over the past ten years.  There is a handful of red being produced from Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, and Pinot Noir, but these are rare and typically very earthy and sometimes very tannic when compared to domestic wines at the same price point.  The reds, though very good, are vastly unappreciated and misunderstood in the American market, therefore, it follows that I must like them.

The afternoon began with a lecture given by Fritz Miesbauer, Rudi Pichler, and Paul Achs.  The three spoke about their wines and led a tasting of six wines that they felt best showcased their individual view points of the terroir and wines from their production.  Their eloquence and candor charmed the audience and I think everyone in attendance enjoyed the wines put in front of us immensely.  All three winemakers were clearly passionate about their wines and their home of Austria.  I was particularly struck with the message they were delivering about wine and place, each speaking in detail about the soil content of their vineyard sites and the aspect of the hillsides.

Stadt Krems, Kremstal:  We tasted a Gruner Veltliner from the Weinsierlberg vineyard and a Riesling from the Grillenparz vineyard, 2008 from Fritz Miesbauer of Stadt Krems.  Both wines were very good.  The house style, or perhaps the style of the Kremstal seems to be broad and steely, not unlike great white Burgundy.  The sandy Loess soils of Kremstal are best-suited for growing Gruner but the warmth that comes off the Danube River allows for a long ripening season for Riesling.  These wines were serious and clearly intended to be enjoyed now and for years to come.

The Gruner was a little closed aromatically having been bottled only three weeks earlier and probably suffering from bottle shock after traveling, but I did manage to find some white pepper, a marker for the grape.  There were also some floral notes and it was obvious that this wine would become something really delicious in a few months after settling a bit.  The Riesling was fantastic, showing pure white peach fruit with an earthy bacon fat aroma that reminded a little of white Rhone wines.  There was a spicy component on the palete too along with mouthwatering acidity, a subtle honeyed character, and long mineral finish.

Rudi Pichler, Wachau: We were shown two wonderful wines by the pragmatic and self-taught Rudi Pichler: Riesling Federspiel 2008 and Gruner Smaragd 2008.  I thought both were excellent.  Federspiel and Smaragd both refer to the amount of hang-time a grape receives in the vineyard, Smaragd being the longest.  These designations only apply to wines from the Wachau.

Pichler's wines reminded me of those from Alsace with a slight spritz of CO2 combined with full-flavors or pure fruit with earthy spicy undertones.  The soils in his vineyards are granite-quartz like the best sites in Alsace.  He spoke about extracting tannins from the skins of the white grapes, which surprised me.  I have often experienced a little tannin in white wine, but this is the first time I've heard a winemaker admit to it.

Tannins are normally talked about only in reference to red wine.  They are the proteins found in wine that leave your mouth feeling dry when you drink it.  Tannins are most commonly used in making leather, hence "tanning" a hide.  They give wine structure.  Both the Riesling and Gruner shown by Pichler had a mildly tannic finish that reminded me of drinking green tea.  I found it gave both wines an extra layer of dimension and complexity that I hadn't experienced before in an Austrian white and I enjoyed the uniqueness of the experience.

Paul Achs, Burgenland: The two Blaufränkisch wines poured by Paul Achs were the standouts of the day for me among the sea of delicious wines.  I confess to not having had too many of these before, so tasting them is still new and exciting for me.  Both were obviously well made and exhibitted pure fruit, ripe tannins, and interesting and complex flavors that evolved as I tasted them.  Burgenland is an area South of Vienna that is relatively new to the wine world though vineyards have been planted here for centuries.  It is most known for its stunning dessert wines, but red wine is slowly gaining acceptance amongst connoisseurs.

The 2008 Edelgrund was intensely packed with blackberry and Syrah-like pepper and anise aromas.  It was concentrated, and if I were to drink it at home, I would decant it well ahead.  Paul Achs told us that the grapes had been picked during a cold snap.  He allows his grapes to begin fermentation naturally, so they sat for nearly a week before it was warm enough for the ambient yeasts to do their thing.  All that time, the juice inside the grape was picking up flavor from the skins and seed of the grapes resulting in the heady wine that we were drinking.

The Ungerberg 2007 was totally different.  This reminded me more of a well-aged Burgundy.  It had roasted cherry and pomegranate fruit tones combined with spicy new oak notes of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.  Achs explained that 2007 was a very hot year accounting for the bigger tannins and roasted quality of the fruit.  The wine, while only 12.5˚ alcohol, was packed with flavor and seemed fuller bodied than it actually was.

What a wonderful experience to have met these three passionate winemakers at the tasting yesterday.  Thanks to Winebow, MS Walker, the Hotel Commonwealth, and Eastern Standard for hosting this event.  It was a valuable learning experience for me and rare opportunity to try so many outstanding wines at one tasting.  I will be on the lookout for these wines when they hit the market here in Boston.


  1. Hello! Sorry to have missed you at the tasting! I was also there representing the digital PR outreach for the Austrian Wine Marketing Board with a few fellow bloggers. Looks like you had a fantastic time so I'm happy to read that! The tasting was truly a great one - especially on such an otherwise dreary day!

  2. it was a great tasting - i'll hope to meet you at another tasting sometime soon.